Agencies Are Increasingly Dismissing Discrimination Claims for the Wrong Reasons

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Federal agencies are increasingly in the wrong when they dismiss discrimination charges, a report released on Monday found.

On average, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has reversed one-third of all cases dismissed between fiscal years 2008 and 2012 by an agency without an investigation or hearing. The reversal rate has increased significantly in that time period, with the rate most recently standing at 45 percent. The fiscal 2012 figure is up 15 percentage points from fiscal 2008.

When federal employees or job applicants feel they are the victim of discrimination, they must notify the agency’s EEO office. If the ensuing counseling does not resolve the issue, the employees can file a formal complaint with their agency. The agency can then either launch an investigation into the claim or dismiss it outright for a variety of reasons, including the employees not filing on time, the complaint concerning a previously settled matter or a lack of sufficient information.

Of the 1,548 dismissal appeals EEOC received in fiscal 2012, nearly 700 were remanded back to the agency.

Common mistakes by agencies included dismissing small negative actions as inconsequential, rather than investigating whether those actions collectively created a hostile work environment. Other errors frequently made by agencies were dismissing claims because of an initial inquiry made during the counseling phase and not factoring in valid excuses for failing to comply with time limits for filing a complaint.

EEOC officials said their report aimed to highlight those mistakes so they could be avoided in the future.

"Preservation of access to the legal system is one of the Commission's critical priorities," said Carlton Hadden, director of EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations. Through the report, Hadden said, “we hope to reduce the number of incorrect procedural dismissals by federal agencies."

The U.S. Postal Service and the Army have maintained one of the five highest reversal rates of any agency across government for each of the last three years. The departments of Agriculture, Justice and Veterans Affairs were also among the worst offenders in fiscal 2012.

Hadden’s office plans to develop “training and other outreach efforts” to reduce dismissal errors.

(Image via Lightspring/Shutterstock.com)

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